Coast Guard allows larger hand tattoos, ink behind each ear

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The Coast Guard announced it updated its tattoo policy, easing rules to allow larger hand tattoos and ink behind each ear.

Coast Guardsmen can now have an up to 2.5 inch tattoo on each hand, larger than the 1 inch maximum version previously allowed, the service shared in a release Tuesday. Approved between the knuckle closest to the wrist and the wrist bones, the body art is not authorized on the palm of the hand.

Additionally, an up to 1 inch tattoo is now authorized behind each ear after previously being allowed behind only one. The tattoos can not extend into the hairline or below the earlobe, and may not be visible from the front.

The Coast Guard hopes the latest revisions will reduce barriers to accession, and affirm its goal to be an employer of choice, as it manages to work through recruitment challenges.

“These updates to our tattoo policy ensure the uniformed workforce presents a sharp and professional military appearance to the public while allowing for individual creativity and expression through authorized body art that is consistent with the Coast Guard’s core values,” the release said.

Coast Guard Rear Adm. Russell Dash, commander of the service’s Personnel Service Center, spoke at a conference in April about how the Coast Guard is working to improve the recruiting process amid a competition for talent.

“The crisis for us is real, just like the rest of the armed services,” he said. “We will continue to be innovative.”

In October 2023, Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Linda Fagan said during a CSIS event that the service was dealing with a shortfall of about 3,500 junior, non-rate members.

A government watchdog report in 2023 recommended that the Coast Guard improve workforce planning processes as well as data monitoring and collection to tackle persistent recruitment and retention challenges.

Tattoos still may not represent racist, discriminatory, indecent, extremist or supremacist philosophies, lawlessness, violence or have sexually explicit content, the release noted.

Standards for Coast Guardsmen also have not changed surrounding tattoos for their neck, chest or fingers.

Tattoos can not be visible above the uppermost edge of a standard crew neck T-shirt when viewed from the front. Plus, the reference point for tattoos on the back of the neck is the top collar edge of the tropical blue shirt, and excluding tattoos permitted behind the ear, none can be visible above the top collar edge of that shirt.

Coast Guardsmen can have one finger tattoo per hand between the knuckle closest to the wrist and fingertip. A ring tattoo is the only body art authorized to encircle the finger and no finger tattoo is allowed on the palm, fingernail or nail bed.

“We see the importance of evolving our service policy to reflect the times in which we live,” Capt. Anthony Williams, from the service’s personnel team, previously said. “As a service we support our members in their ability to express themselves while at the same time maintaining a sharp and professional military appearance to the public we serve.”

Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media

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